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Text message medicine: Texts from the ER can reduce binge drinking

WASHINGTON Young adults who screened positive for a history of hazardous or binge drinking reduced their binge drinking by more than 50 percent after receiving mobile phone text messages following a visit to the emergency department, according to a study published online yesterday in Annals of Emergency Medicine ("A Text Message Alcohol Intervention for Young Adult Emergency Department Patients: A Randomized Clinical Trial").

"Each day in the U.S., more than 50,000 adults ages 18 to 24 visit ERs and up to half have hazardous alcohol use patterns," said Brian Suffoletto, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh, Pa. "More than a third of them report alcohol abuse or dependence. The emergency department provides a unique setting to screen young adults for drinking problems and to engage with them via their preferred mode of communication to reduce future use."

Researchers enrolled 765 young adult emergency patients with a history of hazardous drinking in the study. For 12 weeks, one-third received text messages prompting them to respond to drinking-related queries and received text messages in return offering feedback on their answers. The feedback was tailored to strengthen their low-risk drinking plan or goal or to promote reflection on either their drinking plan or their decision not to set a low-risk goal. One-third received only text message queries about their drinking and one-third received no text messages.

The group receiving both text message queries and feedback decreased their self-reported binge drinking days by 51 percent and decreased the number of self-reported drinks per day by 31 percent. The groups that received only text messages or no text messages increased the number of binge drinking days.

Hazardous drinking is defined as five or more drinks per day for men and four or more drinks per day for women. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that excessive alcohol consumption, including binge drinking, is responsible for 10 percent of deaths among working-age adults in the United States.

"Illicit drugs and opiates grab all the headlines, but alcohol remains the fourth leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.," said Dr. Suffoletto. "If we can intervene in a meaningful way in the health and habits of people when they are young, we could make a real dent in that tragic statistic. Alcohol may bring them to the ER, but we can do our part to keep them from becoming repeat visitors."


Contact: Julie Lloyd
American College of Emergency Physicians

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